Sunday, January 27, 2008

Guest Log Book #1

Written by Beth's Mom, Catherine - Our first visitor!

Dec 31st 2007

On the Way to Melbourne 10:15 CST about 1 hour before landing in LAX and E and E have warned me about the confusion the remodeling of the terminal in LA caused them. The pain in my left heel has intensified so I decided I'd ask for handicap help to the Int'l Terminal.The handicap van was a laugh. They left me off at the Sydney Qantas Terminal. Obviously they didn't want to circle again and just told me to check at a ticket counter. I dragged my carry-on to the next terminal and finally found Qantas/Melbourne tucked away in a corner.- Aboard the neatest plane with TV, three seats all to myself, endless snacks and meals.It's quite a long flight. I awoke from a long nap and saw on the screen that we had not even crossed the Int'l Date Line yet. The thought came to my half-awake mind that it might be best that the pilot do a u-turn or I'll need to sit here for hours again to get back to MSP.-

January 2nd MELBOURNE
Beth and Eric, all smiles, were waiting for me outside the secured area. We hugged and kissed and hugged some more and then walked through the sunshine to their Honda. I jumped in the back seat. There was no way that I would sit where the American driver would be at the steering wheel. We headed into Melbourne and Beth kept turning around looking at me and talking and not attending to driving. I finally said, "Shouldn't you be paying more attention to your driving?" She calmly replied, "Mom, I'm not driving."I realized that we were driving on the "wrong" side of the road but forgot about the position of the steering wheel in the car.
I calmed down and we arrived in their green, tree and flower filled urbanization where their all-white furnished with plump comfy beds (and other furniture and housewares, of course) apt is. Some things are quite interesting in their apt. such as differences of having drying rooms in place of dryers and the bathroom divided into two rooms, 220V that allows you to heat water in an electric teakettle in no time flat, shutters on the windows, and balmy breezes that must have something to do with the proximity of the ocean.-E an E worked schedules that were modified due to the Australian Christmas, New Year, and school long vacations prior to the start of the new school year.

It's a great time for me to be here as Eric is off for the week and Beth's schedule is reduced. Unfortunately, my heel is painful and holds me back. I've visited a MD who was most discouraging; he stated that he was acquainted with another MD who had this plantar's fasciitis for 9 months with no relief. Later in my visit Beth took me to a podiatrist who taped my foot and that helped. After several more weeks Beth took me to another Podiatrist who padded some shoe inserts and then I could finally make some tracks.

We've shared some great, great day trips and 2 super 3 day weekend trips. The 1st week in Melbourne we had an old fashioned picnic on the grounds next to the Botanical Gardens. I'm fascinated by the abundance and variety of trees, bushes and flowers here. The green areas around the Yarra River which runs through the city and the many other parks and tree line streets are most pleasing.
The Australian Open is also being played here at this time. The three of us attended 2 matches one evening or I should say on and on into the night. It was great, though, I hadn't seen a tennis match since Bobby challenged Billie Jean and that was on TV. I had no idea a tennis match could be such an enjoyable spectator sport.

Our first trip out of the city was a about 90 minute out day trip to Phillips Island to see the fairy penguins. This was a total thrill. The island is in a bay area on the southeastern coast of Australia. The three of us and about 2,000 other folks sat on concrete risers on the beach and waited for the sun to go down. The rangers turned on lights on posts high in the air and we could witness the little shavers black bodies riding in on the waves and then receding back a bit. Finally the first brave one put his feet down and waddled to shore through the shore birds. They came in with about 10 or 15 in a group. The penguins waddle up the shore to their burrows in the sand dunes. They have fished all day and then when they reach their burrows they regurgitate these fish in order to feed their young. It all seems to be about raising the family. Viewing the vast number of them in their emergence from the ocean was amazing.

We spent another day at a wildlife sanctuary where we got close up to what Australia is well know for, kangaroos. There were many other creatures of the wild namely, wallabies,dingos, emus, duck-billed platypuses, koalas, blue wrens, Tasmanian devils, cockatoos, snakes and lizards. We drove through such scenic areas to get to the sanctuary. There were rolling hills with cattle and sheep grazing, winery areas, and mountains in the distance.

On Beth's birthday Eric had made plans for a gala dinner experience. We took a dinner ride on a restored old time city tram. While we followed regular city tram routes we were wined and dined and sung to by great waiters. We had a meal, food, and wine to die for. What a treat that was. Sure glad she is a January baby as it paid off this trip.

Our first 3 day trip was to The Great Ocean Drive plus the Australian Temperate Rain Forest. I have never seen an ocean such as this. The Aussies call it the Southern Ocean but I believe the map said the Indian Ocean. I'll have to check that out. The 12 Apostles, the sandstone cliffs that are out in the ocean and the wild waves are breathtaking. The drive is south and west of Melbourne and is about 6 or 7 hours. On the way to The Ocean Drive you go through the rain forest. We deviated a bit from the highway onto gravel so that E and E could climb around to a scenic waterfall. We stood around inhaling the fresh and fragrant rain forest air. I'm not sure what all contributed to the odor, perhaps the fern trees (yes, trees), eucalyptus trees, wild flowers, and such. The last time I smelled anything that delightful was upon landing in the tropical rain forest in Canaima, Venezuela.
Beth had a sales meeting in Sydney so that was a great chance for the 3 of us to go to that city. Beth went on Qantas early on Sat the 19th with co-workers and Eric and I flew up on Virgin Blue later in the morning. We three shared Beth's posh room at the Shangri-La. Eric and I checked and went up to the 25th floor to our room. The fellow at the desk was so kind to assign us that room. Eric pulled open the drapes and there in the big windows was framed the Opera House and the harbor. I'm not sure what I said but in spite of the overwhelming view I hope it was something proper. Eric and I each took a windowsill and stared to our hearts content. Beth was occupied all day and in the evening at a dinner at the Opera House so Eric and I walked steps, steps, steps and through quaint alleys to the wharf. (This was several days following my 2nd podiatrist visit). We took in the sights and ate. Beth came in late and cuddled in with Eric. I had a huge and so comfortable bed by myself. I'm beginning to believe that the beds in Australia are all soft and comfy.On Sunday afternoon we took a ferry to the Manly Beach. Much of it was closed off due to rip tides but a portion was open for me to sit in the sand while the others jumped and were tossed in the ocean.We had most of Monday to explore the city walk around the Opera House and to tour the worlds largest aquarium. I'm not a swimmer so I'll certainly never see such water life again. The nearest I can hope for is the IMAX Great Barrier Reef. I've had such happy times just being here with Eric and Beth. They enjoy their times together, they are good to me, and so pleasant to each other. We play including their modified version of rummy which they are probably going to call Australian Rummy. I also barely got started learning a Tjossem family game named Smear. Sounds like New Ulm or Lewisville to me. I've managed the train on my own a few times, learned how to make roasted capiscum, and walk on the left side of the sidewalk. Now in a few more days I will board the luxury plane to LAX. Perhaps, I'll wake up from a long nap near the International Date Line and wish the pilot would make a U-turn from that long flight and the LA airport and return to Melbourne.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Happy New Year

Season’s greetings everyone and a happy new year. Time zones being as they are, we were able to welcome the coming of 2008 before the rest of you and have had a head start into 2008. It looked like Sydney and Melbourne had pretty big celebrations, unfortunately I was feeling unwell and so spent most of the time at home in bed. New Year’s is a big holiday here because it is the full swing of summer, everybody is outside enjoying the warm weather. Speaking of warm, New Years Eve was the hottest day of 2007. It was a balmy 42C which translates to a hot 106F, YIKES. That’s a huge difference from people who are used to ringing in the New Year in Frost Bite Falls…oops in mean International Falls Minnesota.

Christmas season was a wonderful time this year. We missed friends and family but were happy to be away from the crazy-present-buying-malls. New Zealand has always been a place that we have wanted to visit and since we were so close, we decided that Christmas was the time to go there. I cannot speak about the north island, but the south island of this country is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I can see why Peter Jackson filmed LOTR (Lord of the Rings) and King Kong here. The LOTR tours are quite popular, but they looked kind of cheesy and so to the disappointment of some of you we chose not to go to Hobbiton.

Beth and I attended a Christmas Day church service and I have always thought that one of the best parts about Christmas service is the music. New Zealand has a lot of the same carols that we enjoy in the states but they have others as well. Maori (New Zealand natives) culture seems to be integrated well here. The service bulletin was printed in English and Maori and quite a bit of the service was spoken in Maori as well. We enjoyed the beautiful church and music but an embarrassing incident involving Beth, a communion wafer, a gust of wind, and the church floor caused us to hasten our departure through the nearest exit available. We have now learned the proper etiquette of fallen communion wafers. Who knew you couldn’t just hand them back?

After our excitement in Christ’s church in Christchurch, we drove the 7 hours to Queenstown. Figuring that nothing was going to be open anyway spending the time in the car seemed like the right thing to do. During this time a lesson was learned not to rent the cheapest car that you can find, if you wanted to know it is a 1992 white Toyota corolla. It was, dirty, messy, probably unsafe, and the radio didn’t work. It is a good thing that we had our ipods. Listening to the same podcast, or music is more fun than tuning the other person out, so we drove down the road each of us with one earphone in, of course being careful not to move too much so you don’t damage the inner ear of the person next to you by violently popping the earphone out.

Queenstown is a hip, cool ski town. Probably like Aspen about thirty years ago. It was mostly quiet with the exception of a few tourists walking the streets looking for someplace to have Christmas dinner. After exploring for several blocks and rejecting the cliché of Chinese food, we found a nice little Indian restaurant that looked like it had some good curry. Nothing says Christmas like Tandoori chicken. Maybe a new tradition?

Since we had booked an overnight cruise on Milford Sound, and still had several hours to drive, we wanted to get an early start. Remember that crappy car that I was talking about? It had a flat. I went to change the tire, and the spare was the small, limited speed, temporary tire…sigh. That’s fine because I still have time to go to the rental place and get a new one. As Beth found out the car rental was less than helpful and all of the cars in the whole country were being used that day. There was not a single car from any agency available. I am starting to get uptight about time because we are still not sure how long it is going to take us to get to Milford Sound, and by my calculations (granted very conservative) we should have left about 45 minutes ago. After some cajoling and creative speaking, one of the rental places changed our tyre (tire).

We will write a little more specifically in the next few blogs, just because Queenstown, and Milford Sound deserve their own space.